Sep 122014
 

There is a link between our brain structure and our tolerance of risk, new research suggests.

Dr Agnieszka Tymula, an economist at the University of Sydney, is one of the lead authors of a new study that identifies what might be considered the first stable ‘biomarker’ for financial risk-attitudes.

Using a whole-brain analysis, Dr Tymula and international collaborators found that the grey matter volume of a region in the right posterior parietal cortex was significantly predictive of individual risk attitudes. Men and women with higher grey matter volume in this region exhibited less risk aversion.

“Individual risk attitudes are correlated with the grey matter volume in the posterior parietal cortex suggesting existence of an anatomical biomarker for financial risk-attitude,” said Dr Tymula.

This means tolerance of risk “could potentially be measured in billions of existing medical brain scans.”

But she has cautioned against making a causal link between brain structure and behaviour. More research will be needed to establish whether structural changes in the brain lead to changes in risk attitude or whether that individual’s risky choices alter his or her brain structure – or both.

“The findings fit nicely with our previous findings on risk attitude and ageing. In our Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2013 paper we found that as people age they become more risk averse,” she said.

“From other work we know that cortex thins substantially as we age. It is possible that changes in risk attitude over lifespan are caused by thinning of the cortex.”

The findings are published in the September 10 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.

Source: University of Sydney

Sep 112014
 

How much risk can you tolerate is a  question often asked of investors. And the answer might be possible by looking at a brain scan? Risk tolerance says a Sydney Uni study relates to grey matter volume.

Is your boss a psychopath? It may not be the sort of question you want to raise if you think he or she is…. New research says that psychopaths with high IQ’s are smart enough to cover their tracks.

And a couple of well known medical fasts – might not be….salt causes high blood pressure? Yes or no? No link shown between salt and hypertension.

And wearing a bra doesn’t cause breast cancerAgain no link has been found.

Yesterday was R U  ok day but one simple factor may help reduce suicidesThe amount of sunshine over previous days leads to a decrease in suicides. 

And joining a social group and feeling you belong alleviates depression.

Liver disease caused by herbals and dietary supplements is increasing fast in the U.S.

 

 

Sep 112014
 

Motherboard brainIn a first-of-its-kind study, an international team of neuroscientists and robotics engineers have demonstrated the viability of direct brain-to-brain communication in humans. Recently published in PLOS ONE the highly novel findings describe the successful transmission of information via the internet between the intact scalps of two human subjects – located 5,000 miles apart.

“We wanted to find out if one could communicate directly between two people by reading out the brain activity from one person and injecting brain activity into the second person, and do so across great physical distances by leveraging existing communication pathways,” explains coauthor Alvaro Pascual-Leone, MD, PhD, Director of the Berenson-Allen Center for Noninvasive Brain Stimulation at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School. “One such pathway is, of course, the internet, so our question became, ‘Could we develop an experiment that would bypass the talking or typing part of internet and establish direct brain-to-brain communication between subjects located far away from each other in India and France ?'”

It turned out the answer was “yes.”

In the neuroscientific equivalent of instant messaging, Pascual-Leone, together with Giulio Ruffini and Carles Grau leading a team of researchers from Starlab Barcelona, Spain, and Michel Berg, leading a team from Axilum Robotics, Strasbourg, France, successfully transmitted the words “hola” and “ciao” in a computer-mediated brain-to-brain transmission from a location in India to a location in France using internet-linked electroencephalogram (EEG) and robot-assisted and image-guided transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) technologies.

Previous studies on EEG-based brain-computer interaction (BCI) have typically made use of communication between a human brain and computer. In these studies, electrodes attached to a person’s scalp record electrical currents in the brain as a person realizes an action-thought, such as consciously thinking about moving the arm or leg. The computer then interprets that signal and translates it to a control output, such as a robot or wheelchair.

But, in this new study, the research team added a second human brain on the other end of the system. Four healthy participants, aged 28 to 50, participated in the study. One of the four subjects was assigned to the brain-computer interface (BCI) branch and was the sender of the words; the other three were assigned to the computer-brain interface (CBI) branch of the experiments and received the messages and had to understand them.

Using EEG, the research team first translated the greetings “hola” and “ciao” into binary code and then emailed the results from India to France. There a computer-brain interface transmitted the message to the receiver’s brain through noninvasive brain stimulation. The subjects experienced this as phosphenes, flashes of light in their peripheral vision. The light appeared in numerical sequences that enabled the receiver to decode the information in the message, and while the subjects did not report feeling anything, they did correctly receive the greetings.

A second similar experiment was conducted between individuals in Spain and France, with the end result a total error rate of just 15 percent, 11 percent on the decoding end and five percent on the initial coding side.

“By using advanced precision neuro-technologies including wireless EEG and robotized TMS, we were able to directly and noninvasively transmit a thought from one person to another, without them having to speak or write,” says Pascual-Leone. “This in itself is a remarkable step in human communication, but being able to do so across a distance of thousands of miles is a critically important proof-of-principle for the development of brain-to-brain communications. We believe these experiments represent an important first step in exploring the feasibility of complementing or bypassing traditional language-based or motor-based communication.”

Source: Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Sep 112014
 

GroupBuilding a strong connection to a social group helps clinically depressed patients recover and helps prevent relapse, according to a new study.

For the paper, Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) Senior Fellow Alexander Haslam, lead author Tegan Cruwys and their colleagues at the University of Queensland conducted two studies of patients diagnosed with depression or anxiety. The patients either joined a community group with activities such as sewing, yoga, sports and art, or partook in group therapy at a psychiatric hospital.

In both cases, patients responding to survey questions who did not identify strongly with the social group had about a 50 percent likelihood of continued depression a month later. But of those who developed a stronger connection to the group and who came to see its members as ‘us’ rather than ‘them,’ less than a third still met the criteria for clinical depression after that time. Many patients said the group made them feel supported because everyone was “in it together.”

“We were able to find clear evidence that joining groups, and coming to identify with them, can alleviate depression,” says Haslam, a member of CIFAR’s Social Interactions, Identity & Well-Being (SIIWB) program.

While past research has looked at the importance of social connections for preventing and treating depression, Dr. Haslam says it has tended to emphasize interpersonal relationships rather than the importance of a sense of group identity. In addition, researchers haven’t really understood why group therapy works.

“Our work shows that the ‘group’ aspect of social interaction is critical,” he says.

The researchers say the next questions they will try to answer are what factors encourage people to engage with a group and to internalize its identity, and how this leads them to develop a sense of support, belonging, purpose and meaning. Haslam says this is likely to involve both group and individual factors, including how accommodating the group is, and how the group fits with a person’s understanding of themselves and the world.

Haslam says his participation in the SIIWB program has greatly influenced his research on depression and CIFAR’s support has, in many ways, led him down the path toward studies like this one.

“The group is a major source of encouragement, but it has also helped to hone our questions in important ways — so that we have asked the right questions and looked in the right places for answers.”

This paper is in press at the Journal of Affective Disorders.

Source: Canadian Institute for Advanced Research

 

Sep 112014
 

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Carolyn Bate has had her psychology dissertation accepted by academic journal Journal of Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology. Credit: University of Huddersfield

A BREAKTHROUGH by a talented University of Huddersfield student has shown for the first time that people with psychopathic tendencies who have high IQs can mask their symptoms by manipulating tests designed to reveal their personalities. It raises the possibility that large numbers of ruthless risk-takers are able to conceal their level of psychopathy as they rise to key managerial posts.

Carolyn Bate, aged 22, was still an undergraduate when she carried out her groundbreaking research into the links between psychopathy and intelligence, using a range of special tests and analysing the data. She wrote up her findings for the final-year project in her BSc Psychology degree. Not only was she awarded an exceptionally high mark of 85 per cent, her work has also been accepted for publication by the peer-reviewed Journal of Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology – an unusual distinction for an undergraduate.

Carolyn, who has now graduated with First Class Honours, said that her project was triggered when she read about research which showed that while one per cent of the population were categorised as psychopaths, the figure rose to three per cent in the case of business managers.

“I thought that intelligence could be an explanation for this, and it could be a problem if there are increased numbers of psychopaths at a high level in business. The figure could be more than three per cent, because if people are aware they are psychopathic they can also lie – they are quite manipulative and lack empathy. This could have a detrimental effect on our everyday lives,” said Carolyn, who added that some researchers have suggested that episodes such as the Wall Street Crash could be blamed on the numbers of psychopaths among decision makers.

She points out that, despite the media’s invariably lurid use of the term, there are various categories of psychopath and they are not all prone to physical violence.

“The ones who are at the top of businesses are often charming and intelligent, but with emotional deficits, as opposed to psychopaths who are quite erratic and tend to commit gruesome crimes and are often caught and imprisoned.”

Sufficient intelligence to fake their emotional response

To test her ideas, Carolyn assembled 50 participants, mostly from among students, who underwent a series of tests – conducted in strict confidence – beginning with an appraisal of IQ levels using a standard procedure. Then they completed the Levenson Self-Report Psychopathy Scale, which established which participants had either Factor One or Factor Two psychopathic tendencies.

Then Carolyn used the technique of Galvanic Skin Response (GSR). Electrodes were attached to the fingers of participants in order to gauge their reactions to images on a computer screen. They included pictures of crying children, people being threatened and scenes of natural disasters. There were no truly horrific images, but they were of the sort that would shock a completely normal person. However, a person with Factor One psychopathic tendencies – the sort more likely to become a business manager – would display little or no emotional response; while a Factor Two psychopath would demonstrate a heightened response due to excitement.

Carolyn found that the GSR responses among her participants were much as she would have predicted – except for the fact that it was only those with lower levels of intelligence who displayed the expected levels of excitement.

The conclusion is that those with higher IQs had sufficient intelligence to fake their emotional response, making it more difficult to detect their condition. This is the discovery that means Carolyn has made an original contribution to research in the field.

She has contemplated the implications and whether or not it is important to develop new procedures to screen out psychopathic people who are in line for top business posts.

“Perhaps businesses do need people who have the same characteristics as psychopaths, such as ruthlessness. But I suspect that some form of screening does need to take place, mainly so businesses are aware of what sort of people they are hiring,” she says.

Having graduated in psychology, Carolyn – who is from Leeds and attended Abbey Grange Academy in West Park – is now heading in a different direction. She returns to the University of Huddersfield for a year in order to acquire a Postgraduate Certificate in Education, with the goal of becoming a maths teacher.

But she retains the fascination for psychology that led her to study the subject at degree level and she praises her University of Huddersfield tutors, including Dr Daniel Boduszek, Senior Lecturer in Criminal Psychology, who supervised her final-year project, now to be published. “I am really grateful to Dan, who was an excellent tutor,” says Carolyn.

Source: University of Huddersfield

 

Sep 112014
 

Discrimination against overweight and obese people does not help them to lose weight, finds new UCL research funded by Cancer Research UK.

In a study of 2,944 UK adults over four years, those who reported experiencing weight discrimination gained more weight than those who did not. On average, after accounting for baseline differences, people who reported weight discrimination gained 0.95kg whereas those who did not lost 0.71kg, a difference of 1.66kg.

The research, published in the journal Obesity, contradicts the common perception that discrimination or ‘fat shaming’ might encourage weight loss. The study asked people whether they experienced day-to-day discrimination that they attributed to their weight. Examples of discrimination include being treated disrespectfully, receiving poor service in shops, and being harassed.*

Because this was a population survey and not an experimental study, it cannot conclusively confirm that the positive association observed between discrimination and weight gain is causal. Discrimination was assessed two years after the initial weight measurements and two years before the final measurements, but all the analyses statistically controlled for initial weight and other potential influences.

The data are from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, a study of adults aged 50 or older. Of the 2,944 eligible participants in the study, 5% reported weight discrimination. This ranged from less than 1% of those in the ‘normal weight’ category to 36% of those classified as ‘morbidly obese’. Men and women reported similar levels of weight discrimination.

“There is no justification for discriminating against people because of their weight,” says lead author Dr Sarah Jackson (UCL Epidemiology & Public Health). “Our results show that weight discrimination does not encourage weight loss, and suggest that it may even exacerbate weight gain.

“Previous studies have found that people who experience discrimination report comfort eating. Stress responses to discrimination can increase appetite, particularly for unhealthy, energy-dense food. Weight discrimination has also been shown to make people feel less confident about taking part in physical activity, so they tend to avoid it.”

Senior author Professor Jane Wardle, director of the Cancer Research UK Health Behaviour Centre at UCL, says: “Our study clearly shows that weight discrimination is part of the obesity problem and not the solution. Weight bias has been documented not only among the general public but also among health professionals; and many obese patients report being treated disrespectfully by doctors because of their weight. Everyone, including doctors, should stop blaming and shaming people for their weight and offer support, and where appropriate, treatment.”

*Authors’ description of discrimination survey: Participants were asked how often they encounter five discriminatory situations: ‘In your day-to-day life, how often have any of the following things happened to you:

      1) you are treated with less respect or courtesy;

 

      2) you receive poorer service than other people in restaurants and stores;

 

      3) people act as if they think you are not clever;

 

      4) you are threatened or harassed;

 

    5) you receive poorer service or treatment than other people from doctors or hospitals.

Responses ranged from ‘never’ to ‘almost every day’. Because data were highly skewed, with most participants reporting never experiencing discrimination, we dichotomised responses to indicate whether or not respondents had ever experienced discrimination in any domain (never vs. all other options). Participants who reported discrimination in any of the situations were asked to indicate the reason(s) they attributed their experience to from a list of options including weight, age, gender, and race. We considered participants who attributed experiences of discrimination to their weight as cases of perceived weight discrimination.

 

Source: University College London

Sep 112014
 

NetworkingIf schmoozing for work leaves you with a certain “ick” factor, that’s not just awkwardness you’re feeling.

Professional networking can create feelings of moral impurity and physical dirtiness, shows a new study.

That can hold people back from networking more, reducing career opportunities and lowering job performance, says study co-author Tiziana Casciaro, an associate professor of organizational behaviour and human resource management at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. The study was co-written with fellow researchers Prof. Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School and Prof. Maryam Kouchaki at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

In professional networking, “people feel that they cannot justify their actions to themselves, and the lack of justification comes from the difficulty people have in framing some forms of networking as motivated by a concern for other people versus a selfish concern,” says Prof. Casciaro, who teaches organizational behaviour at Rotman and researches networks and organizations.

Despite the importance of networking in the business world, there has been little study of its psychological impacts. The findings in this study are based on several laboratory experiments, in addition to a study of lawyers at a large North American legal firm.

Significantly, people who had more power in the office were less likely to report feeling dirty when it came to networking, and engaged in it more often.  That effect can make it harder to penetrate existing power structures, because it means those already in power are more comfortable with networking and continue to reinforce and advance their positions. By contrast, those with less power feel more tainted by networking — even though they need it the most –and may have a harder time advancing themselves or improving their job performance.

Those negative feelings can be overcome when people start to see networking as being about more than just themselves, such as an opportunity to develop the networker’s knowledge of their industry, with the benefit being passed on to whomever they work with, points out Prof. Casciaro.

Networking can also start to feel more like a two-way street when people see themselves as having something to offer, even if they’re still an outsider or junior in the business. “Don’t underestimate what you can give,” says Prof. Casciaro.

The study is forthcoming in Administrative Science Quarterly.

Source: University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management

Sep 112014
 

A study using motion capture technology provides new information on the spinal strain produced by various sexual positions—suggesting that one position commonly recommended for all men with low back pain is not actually the best choice, reports a study in the journalSpine. The journal is published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, a part of Wolters Kluwer Health.

The results provide a more scientific basis for making individualized recommendations regarding sexual positions for men with low back pain, according to Natalie Sidorkewicz, MSc, and Stuart M. McGill, PhD, of the Spine Biomechanics Laboratory at University of Waterloo, Ont., Canada.

High-Tech Study Measures Spinal Strain in Five Positions

The study included 10 healthy young couples in established relationships. All participants were free of back, hip, or other problems affecting sexual activity. In the biomechanics laboratory, the couples were asked to perform five different sex positions in random order. These included two variations of the “missionary” position, two variations of the “quadruped” (on hands and knees) position, and a “spooning” position.

The study used motion capture technology—like that used in digitally animated movies—to track the motion of the partners’ spines. The researchers were able to measure spinal motion and estimate strain on the male partner’s spine for each position.

The results showed significant variations between positions, in terms of the rate and extent of spinal movement. Recommendations for patients with back pain would depend on the type of movements that trigger pain, the researchers point out. For example, for a “flexion-intolerant” patient—pain induced by bending the spine forward—a quadruped position with the woman supporting her weight on her elbows and knees would place the least strain on the male partner’s spine.

The next best position would be the missionary position, with the man supporting his upper body with his hands as opposed to his elbows. Such “seemingly subtle” changes in posture appear to have a significant effect on spinal motion and strain.

Results Question Advice on ‘Spooning’ Position

The study also found that the spooning position produced the greatest strain on the male partner’s spine if they were flexion-intolerant. That’s of special interest, because the spooning position has commonly been recommended for all patients with low back pain. Ms Sidorkewicz comments, “These previous recommendations for men and women with any type of back pain were based on speculation, clinical experience, or popular media resources—not scientific evidence.”

Many patients with low back pain have pain during intercourse, which can lead to reduced sexual activity. In previous survey studies, men with low back pain have reported “marked discomfort” during intercourse, with difficulties in finding a pain-free position and with pelvic thrusting.

The new study is the first to measure the effects of various sexual positions on spinal motion and strain. The results—together with information on the types of movements triggering the patient’s pain—will help in making recommendations for sexual activity in men with low back pain.

Sidorkewicz and McGill acknowledge some important limitations of their study—particularly the focus on “male-centric” positions, which reflected constraints of the motion capture technology. Future studies will look at female-centric positions, biomechanical effects in patients with actual back pain, and the effectiveness of different movement pattern and posture interventions.

The researchers hope their study will help to promote communication about sexual activity between patients with back pain and their health care providers. “Many health care practitioners feel uncomfortable discussing their client’s sexual needs or do not address these needs at all,” they write. “Perhaps the provision of recommendations qualified with empirical data will not only substantiate their clinical advice, but also facilitate dialogue between health care practitioners and their patients regarding this important issue.”

Source: Wolters Kluwer Health.

 

Sep 112014
 

Stresses senior businessman sat in empty boardroomOlder men who lead high-stress lives, either from chronic everyday hassles or because of a series of significant life events, are likely to die earlier than the average for their peers, new research from Oregon State University shows.

“We’re looking at long-term patterns of stress – if your stress level is chronically high, it could impact your mortality, or if you have a series of stressful life events, that could affect your mortality,” said Carolyn Aldwin, director of the Center for Healthy Aging Research in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU.

Her study looked at two types of stress: the everyday hassles of such things as commuting, job stress or arguments with family and friends; and significant life events, such as job loss or the death of a spouse.

Both types appear to be harmful to men’s health, but each type of stress appears to have an independent effect on mortality. Someone experiencing several stressful life events does not necessarily have high levels of stress from everyday hassles, Aldwin said. That is determined more by how a person reacts to the stress.

“It’s not the number of hassles that does you in, it’s the perception of them being a big deal that causes problems,” Aldwin said. “Taking things in stride may protect you.”

Aldwin’s latest research on long-term patterns of stress in men was published recently in the journal “Experimental Gerontology.” Co-authors of the study were Yu-Jin Jeong of Chonbuk National University in Korea; Heidi Igarashi and Soyoung Choun of OSU; and Avron Spiro III of Boston University. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The researchers used data from the Veterans Affairs Normative Aging Study. They studied stressful life events and everyday hassles for 1,293 men between 1989 and 2005 then followed the men until 2010. About 43 percent of the men had died by the end of the study period.

About a third of the men who reported having few stressful life events had died, while closer to half of the men reporting moderate or high numbers of stressful events had died by the end of the study.

Men who reported few everyday hassles had the lowest mortality rate, at 28.7 percent. Just under half of the men reporting a mid-range number of hassles had died by the end of the study, while 64.3 percent of the men reporting a high number of hassles had died.

Stressful life events are hard to avoid, but men may live longer if they’re able to control their attitudes about everyday hassles, such as long lines at the store or traffic jams on the drive home, Aldwin said.

“Don’t make mountains out of molehills,” she said. “Coping skills are very important.”

The study gives a snapshot of the effects of stress on men’s lives and the findings are not a long-term predictor of health, she said. Stress and other health issues can develop over a long period of time.

Aldwin said future research will look more closely at the different stressors’ effects on health to see if the two types of stress have similar or different impacts on the body’s physiology. Understanding how stress affects health.

Source: Oregon State University

Sep 112014
 

photodune-8524653-sunshine-xsLower rates of suicide are associated with more daily sunshine in the prior 14 to 60 days.

Light interacts with brain serotonin systems and possibly influences serotonin-related behaviors. Those behaviors, such as mood and impulsiveness, can play a role in suicide.

The authors examined the relationship between suicide and the duration of sunshine after mathematically removing seasonal variations in sunshine and suicide numbers. They analyzed data on 69,462 officially confirmed suicides in Austria between January 1970 and May 2010. Hours of sunshine per day were calculated from 86 representative meteorological stations.

There was a positive correlation between the number of suicides and hours of daily sunshine on the day of the suicide and up to 10 days before that seemed to facilitate suicide, while sunshine 14 to 60 days prior appeared to have a negative correlation and was associated with reduced suicides. The correlation between daily sunshine hours and suicide rates was seen largely among women, while negative correlations between the two were mainly found among men.

“Owing to the correlative nature of the data, it is impossible to directly attribute the increase in suicide to sunshine during the 10 days prior to the suicide event. … Further research is warranted to determine which patients with severe episodes of depression are more susceptible to the suicide-triggering effects of sunshine.”

Source: The JAMA Network Journals

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